A scoping study: children, policy and cultural shifts in homelessness services in South Australia: are children still falling through the gaps?

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Homeless families are the fastest growing segment of the homelessness population. Homelessness services are often the first to know when children are at risk of disengagement with health, welfare and education services. Changes to Australian policy to explicitly attend to the needs of children are attempts to address the complexity of, and provide better outcomes for, homeless children. There are mounting levels of evidence describing some of the needs of children who are homeless. Using the scoping study methodological framework, this review of academic and grey literature identified the extent to which service providers provide for the needs of homeless children. The literature search was conducted from September 2012 to April 2013 using ProQuest, Science Direct, Sage and OVID databases. Therefore, the objectives of this scoping study were to: (i) identify the specific needs of children in homelessness; (ii) describe recent changes in policy relating to care for children in homelessness services; (iii) explore the evidence on how service providers can enact care for children in homelessness services; (iv) identify the types of practice changes that are needed to optimise outcomes for children; and (v) identify the gaps in service delivery. This article describes the Australian policy changes and explores the potential impact of subsequent sector reforms on the internal practices in front-line homelessness services, in order to overcome structural and systemic barriers, and promote opportunities for children in homeless families. This scoping study literature review contributes to the understanding of the impact of policy change on front-line staff and suggests possible practice changes and future research options.

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